After I graduated from grade 12 at Neil McNeil High School, an all boys catholic school, I went mad! No woman for four years! Nothing!
Back then, a student in Ontario needed not only to graduate from grade twelve, but required 6 (OAC) Ontario Academic Credits. Credits with an average of 70% to make it into university. So I went to night school to take advanced English. During the day I worked as a warehouse worker at the Old Sears Warehouse at 108 Mutual Street in Toronto. It is now a trendy loft, but in 1989 it was bustling with loud machinery and frantic workmen moving about. That job went from 7am to 330pm from Monday to Friday.
For two nights a week, I would go to night school. Yes, I was exhausted in the evening hours. That night school class, however, had four students, but someone dropped out, forcing everyone to move closer together. That English teacher assiduously stuck to reading the classics of literature. First up was Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian and Mystery of Udolpho. One night, he made us open the windows in the class room. The lights were turned off. Only then, did we read our Ann Radcliffe by candle light. The air that entered the school room was cold and the snow would accumulate on the floor. Before the 20th century, that was how it was done. Reading classical literature in such a circumstance cemented my interest in the Master’s of literature forever.
When I did get a girlfriend, I read her Lord Byron’s She walks in Beauty of the Night. That’s me, an old softy. The teacher did the same for King Lear, Macbeth, and Mathew Lewis’ The Monk. When the term ended, I would go on to read Alexander Dumas, Leo Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, and Thomas Hardy. When I went to York University in 1991, I discovered Theodore Dreiser, Hemingway, and Charles Dickens. Everyone knows Richard Lattimore’s translation of The Odyssey of Homer is the standard.
In my mind, classic literature still rules my world. I only lasted two years in such a university because of my complete disdain for political correctness. After university, I would venture back to classic literature. For some reason, Jules Verne was the only sci fi author I would read. When I read Ray Kurzweil’s Age of Spiritual Machines, sci fi seemed relevant and doable. K. Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation would follow. In the classics I would go on to discover H. G. Wells War of the Worlds and the Time Machine, including the Invisible Man. I am still a classics lit snoot. Whenever someone mentions the latest, popular author, I usually hold my nose. They must have that age old catch with me. Gulliver’s Travels has it. The short story collection for Sinclair Lewis, or Theodore Dreiser, has it.
In the last decade, I discovered Richard Matheson. How? For some reason, I could not stop watching Charlton Heston in The Omega Man (1971). I had to read the book and understand it’s inspiration for such a film. Every media commentator listed Steve Jobs as the best autobiography of the 21st century. Don’t they know, Mark Twain delayed the release of his autobiography by one hundred years after his death. That’s right, Mark Twain’s autobiography came out in 2010 and I list it as the best autobiography of the 21st century too. The world needs more Mark Twain’s with such a body of work.
My favorite books of the 20th century are Herman Hess’s Glass Bead Game, Richard Wright’s Black Boy, and Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird. That being said, reading Ann Radcliffe by candle light motivated me to read the classics and it still does.